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Encinitas City Council supports mini-fire station plan

ENCINITAS — After hours of discussion, debate and public comments, the City Council said it would support a mini-fire station in the Olivenhain area and directed city fire officials to explore various ways of implementing the part-time response unit. 

The decision was disappointing to the numerous residents who supported the construction of a “real” fire station in the rural area.

Bob Bonde, a Cardiff resident was an exception to most of the public speakers. Rather than build a fire station, he encouraged the council to place the emphasis on medical emergencies. He said more ambulances should be placed at each fire station to respond to calls in Olivenhain. “We should never add another fire station in this town,” he said. “Every time we do it seems like our response times get worse.”

City fire officials provided five options for decreasing emergency response times to Olivenhain. The cheapest, and most unpopular option among residents was renting office space on Rancho Santa Fe Road with an ambulance for 12-hours a day at an estimated cost of $322,000 annually. The most expensive choice was a portable, full service fire station building and a brush fire truck on Lone Jack Road and staffing it 24 hours a day at an estimated cost of $1.65 million a year.

Fire Chief Scott Henry recommended the council select the least costly option.

“So much for community participation,” said Tom Swanson, an Olivenhain resident who has been advocating for a fully staffed fire station in the community for two years. He noted that residents were overwhelmingly supportive of the idea.

Shelby Lynnde, an Olivenhain resident said the extra time it takes emergency responders to get to the community is dangerous and could mean “life or death.” “I moved here because it’s beautiful and you do nothing to protect it. Shame, shame on this town,” she told the council. Lynnde said she and her neighbors deserve protection. “And I shouldn’t have to beg for it,” she added.

Jon Jerotz, president of Olivenhain Town Council said the group voted unanimously in 2011 and 2012 to encourage the City Council to provide a full-time fire and paramedic service in the community to decrease emergency response times.

City response time data shows that emergency vehicles get to 80 percent of their “high priority” calls in the Olivenhain area within 11 minutes. Henry noted that was double the amount of time that other parts of town wait for an ambulance or a fire truck.

Council members debated the quickest way to get a mini-station staffed on a 24-hour basis in a cost-effective manner but to no avail. Councilman Mark Muir, a former city fire chief, suggested that the city explore starting a fire internship program as one solution.

Muir said he supported a mini-station with a brush fire rig that would be in place 24-hours a day.

“I’d like Option 4, but it’s kind of expensive,” he said. Option 4 calls for putting a brush fire truck and crew in the rented office space on Rancho Santa Fe Road 24-hours a day. Its annual cost is estimated to be $921,000.

But Mayor Jerome Stocks said it was too costly. “The reality is that only 4 percent of the city’s emergency service calls come from Olivenhain,” he said.

Councilman James Bond, who lives in Olivenhain, said the first option was a good remedy because it secures a medical aid vehicle in the area during peak call periods. Bond said city fire statistics indicate that the vast majority of the 911 emergency calls are for medical services rather than fire calls.

“I know this won’t thrill everybody that wants a permanent fire station, but I think we need to move judiciously,” he said.

Fire officials will return to council in the near future with a final proposal for the mini-station.